I review Piketty
Bookforum has unleashed my review of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. The opening:
The core message of this enormous and enormously important book can be delivered in a few lines: Left to its own devices, wealth inevitably tends to concentrate in capitalist economies. There is no “natural” mechanism inherent in the structure of such economies for inhibiting, much less reversing, that tendency. Only crises like war and depression, or political interventions like taxation (which, to the upper classes, would be a crisis), can do the trick. And Thomas Piketty has two centuries of data to prove his point.
That, and endless waves of immigration, which continuously upset the economic hierarchy, kept the United States more egalitarian than Europe into the 1970s. —-
Wasn’t the equality basically because of free land and having space to expand, with a resulting scarcity of labor ? You could always pack up and ‘move to California’, except now you can’t.
Immigration from 1970-2000 was as profound as anything before but certainly didn’t upset the hierarchy, except perhaps in the cases of those immigrants who already were from elite-educated families (i.e Sergey Brin, Elon Musk).
Madison somewhere predicted trouble for the US when it could no longer expand Westward. He got that right. The closing of the continental frontier immediately preceded two World Wars, the emergence of labor, the New Deal and, ominously, a novel global empire governed by an American security-surveillance state. What are the losers of today to do when moving West lacks sense? Who will the imperialists subdue when their empire becomes too expensive?